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At times, Ant-Man feels like a living eulogy. In one scene, pre-Ant-Man Scott Lang makes like MacGyver during a heist, fashioning complicated solutions to unexpected obstacles like a fingerprint reader and Titanic-era safe. His actions are zippily edited, and if the sound effects had been enhanced, the scenes might’ve seem lifted out of Edgar Wright’s British TV series Spaced.
Edgar, is that you?
It’s not, of course. The director was originally attached to Ant-Man but walked before filming began (“creative differences,” wouldn’t you know); Yes Man’s Peyton Reed stepped in to replace him. And though Wright still retains a screenplay credit, so do Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd. It’s tough to discern how much of the moderately funny dialogue stormed out of Wright’s Brit-twisted brain. As with any premature departure, viewers thoughts may turn into obsessive what-ifs as life—I mean, the film—goes on.
Creative differences, personnel changes, and an embarrassment of scripters tend to culminate in disaster, so it’s a surprise that Ant-Man isn’t quite that. Though the film is an inarguably lesser addition to the Marvel Comic Universe, the charm of Rudd, the doofiness of Michael Peña (who knew?), the badassery of Evangeline Lilly, and the punchability of Bobby Cannavale create enough novel oomph to compensate for every “We gotta get outta here fast!” cliché.
It’s hard to buy Rudd as a thief who’s just getting out of San Quentin when the film opens, but let his lack of tough-guy cred slide, and he’s as personable a newly christened superhero as any of the Avengers. (MCU diehards will be delighted when one of them shows up to feel Ant-Man out after beating him down.) S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, Stark Industries—the filmmakers allow these worlds to seamlessly, wonderfully collide. And in less than two hours!
Lang decides to work for Baskin-Robbins (the source of a few solid jokes) rather than get caught up in a tip from his former cellmate, Luis (Peña, expertly delivering the kind of well-meaning but childlike character who’s distracted by shiny objects). But when Lang’s ex (Judy Greer) puts financial terms on his right to see their daughter, he agrees to One. Last. Job.
Enter the odd old man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and soon Lang learns how to miniaturize and embiggen himself on command, becoming Lord of the Ants. It’s technology that had been buried by Pym after Things Went Wrong, but now his estranged daughter, Hope (Lilly), and her evil, bald boyfriend, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), have discovered the secret. Of course, Cross wants to use it to take over the world, a popular movie job that, frankly, sounds exhausting.
Just when CGI cues eyes to glaze over, Reed returns to realistic dimensions to ludicrous comic effect, as in a ferocious battle that takes place on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. These mini superheroes and villains are as serious as Captain America is earnest, which brings the funny when they’re shown to scale.
The quartet of screenwriters didn’t manage to serve up the barrage of one-liners typical of most Marvel entries, but one particularly entertaining trick is having Luis tell a long-winded story while showing the people he’s quoting as they lip-sync to his tangents. (Peña’s voice coming out of someone else’s mouth while saying, “There’s a bigass safe, just chillin’!” is genius.) Most of the amusement, though, comes from Rudd’s characteristic goofy arrogance.
Still, even after the double post-credit scenes (that’s right, double), viewers will lament what Ant-Man might have been with an across-the-pond, Shaun of the Dead touch. As it stands, they’ll leave Ant-Man vaguely satisfied—and a little itchy.
Ant-Man opens Friday at local Regal and AMC theaters.